Guest post: This weekend I am at the Singularity Summit 2007 in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. About 800 people showed up to hear about the issues related to a future in which humans won't be the driving force in delivering scientific and technological innovations, eclipsed cognitively by "posthumans" or machine intelligences. I talked to four of the speakers prior to the event--the podcasts are here.
I am joined by Chris Matyszczyk, who will be offering his views of the Summit. Chris has spent most of his career as an award- winning creative director in the advertising industry. He is perhaps most well known for his advertising campaign against domestic violence in Poland, which had a major impact on cultural behavior. He has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a refreshingly, non-techie, and humorous, perspective to the Singularity Summit. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.
I came here to discover. I came here to learn some secrets. It’s a little like the reason people want to the President of the United States.
And within ten minutes, the first secret is out. The world has a deep need for artificial intelligence.
Let me define ‘the world.’ In essence, old gits.
Rodney Brooks, a man who talks a little like Crocodile Dundee but is actually from the alligator farm that is MIT, began by telling us about his favorite sci-fi movies (loves Arthur Clarke, hates Steven Spielberg).
But at heart, he cares about old people.
He explained that in the next few years, you’ll be able to have every movie you ever wanted to watch on your iPod.
After all, if you’re a 90-year-old, arthritis-ridden former accountant or CIO, you’ll need to be able to catch up on what happens at the end of Serendipity. Or, perhaps, Armageddon.
Because you’ll be in a far better mood than you were during all the wars of the early 21st century.
Professor Brooks, almost Bush-like in his stealth, seems to have just said that one-third of wars in the future will be unmanned.
The mind explodes at the effect this will have on the American economy (bad) and people’s sense of secure well-being (also bad).
We will need all these movies on our iPods. We are going to have a lot of trouble sleeping.
As I will tonight. For Professor Brooks has just shown film of prototype robots that have big red lips, large flappy ears and, it appears, feelings. (See video below.)
They are utterly remarkable versions of some animated cow from a TV commercial.
My only concern is that the humans talking to the robots in the professor’s film are talking to them as if the robots were three years old. I’ve never seen a three-year-old with lips like that before.
But I have had women talk to me like that before.
This is another very clever maneuver on the part of the organizers. They have begun to secure my sympathy for the machine over the human.
But the professor ended with a headache. Or ten. There are so many different potential futures.
"There may not be an us and a them," said the professor. We might change ourselves simultaneously as the robots become more sophisticated. And, worst of all for the human ego, the robots won’t know that we have created them. So, with humungous ingratitude, they might just ignore us.
Or all the home robots Professor Brooks' company makes will suddenly develop a virus in say 2028, and five million aging Rolling Stones fans, as well as Mick Jagger, die, setting robotkind back 50 years (Keith Richards survives).
His preferred future is humans augmented by elective neural implants--the machine-man meld. Or Rutger Hauer.
I am, however, still most disturbed by the thought that, like teenagers, our creations might ignore us.
They might treat us like we treat chipmunks, said Professor Brooks.
Let us hope that Sally Field [“you like me, you really like me”] has died well before that happens.